ShentonSTAGE Daily for THURSDAY AUGUST 18

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Welcome to today’s edition of ShentonSTAGE Daily.

I head up to Edinburgh this Sunday, but only for a VERY brief three night stay; enough to dip my toes into some of the glories of the world’s largest arts jamboree, but not (hopefully) to become overwhelmed by it. I’ll just ‘taste’ some highlights, and then get out again. Of course, many Edinburgh hits will have a further life afterwards, so I’ll be able to catch them then.

But here’s an extraordinary thing: it really isn’t coming cheap. My days of crashing on a friend’s sofa (or sharing a floor) are long past, even if I had friends there I could share with. So I’ve booked myself a Premier Inn Hub room, near the Assembly Rooms, which is costing me £445 for three nights; and given the current ongoing rail disruptions, I’m flying from Gatwick to Edinburgh, which is costing me £175. So that’s £620, even before the costs of getting to and from the airport, transport around town, meals and theatre tickets (though many will be free, not all will be).

By contrast, my husband and I took a seven night holiday on Spain’s Costa Brava in June, including flights and half board accommodation at a four-star hotel, which cost us just £368 each.

Cultural consumption doesn’t come cheap. But then the Edinburgh experience — frustrating and fabulous, exhilarating and exhausting — is quite unlike any other event you can go to. 

The return of CRUISE to the West End… and revisisting SOUTH PACIFIC

The one-person show, of course, is an Edinburgh staple, and I will be seeing my share of them this weekend. But expecting a solo actor to fill a West End theatre is a taller order, especially if the actor is essentially known, as Jack Holden is. Yet last night he returned there for a second run of his self-penned one-man play CRUISE, playing a version of himself as an eager, young volunteer for the LGBTQ listening service Switchboard, as he chronicles a period of gay London that he didn’t actually personally experience: the age of AIDS as it hit us in the 1980s.

It’s similar territory to the one charted by Russell T Davies’s wonderful IT’S A SIN (voted the best TV series of last year by The Guardian), but filtered through just one observer’s eyes of experiences that were told to him. Originally premiered in May 2021 at the Duchess — when it was one of the first plays back when theatres tentatively reopened — it has now returned to the larger Apollo, recently vacated by no less than Mark Rylance!

So one bravura actor has been replaced by another. And this alternately tough and tender odyssey through 80s gay Londond pulses with feeling and energy. (Next up at the Apollo is another one-man show, Gabriel Bryne’s autobiographical Walking with Ghosts). from September 6-17).

It’s great seeing the West End giving house room to alternative shows and stories like these.

We are also having a notable summer of thrilling revivals of classic Broadway musicals, with MY FAIR LADY nearing the end of its run at the London Coliseum and ANYTHING GOES at the Barbican (both in productions first seen on Broadway) and of course CABARET in a brand-new immersive staging at the Playhouse. We also had the dazzling Daniel Fish revival of OKLAHOMA! at the Young Vic.

Yesterday I also caught the London transfer of another Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, SOUTH PACIFIC, in a revelatory and musically sumptuous production first seen at Chichester Festival Theatre last summer. It’s not just that Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1949 musical has an almost unbroken run of back-to-back glorious songs, but they thrillingly dramatise a poignant, powerful story, and Daniel Evans’s beautiful production gives both its music and drama equal weight.

Julian Ovenden and Gina Becklead (pictured above) lead a pitch-perfect cast (in EVERY sense), while Rob Houchen is a scene stealer every time he sings. This show is epic musical theatre at its very best. It runs at Sadler’s Wells until August 29, then resumes a UK and Ireland national tour.

SEE YOU ON MONDAY

I’ll be back here on Monday. If you can’t wait that long, I may also be found on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/ShentonStage/ (though not as regularly on weekends)

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